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Comptroller: Records falsified in probe of Sullivan schools discrimination case

Hank Hayes • Aug 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A former investigator with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission (THRC) falsified official THRC records relating to a Sullivan County employment discrimination complaint and provided deceptive responses after being confronted about the records, according to a special investigative audit report released Wednesday by the state Comptroller’s Office.

The case against ex-THRC investigator Leonard Madu evolved after being referred to Comptroller John Morgan by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville when one of his constituents, Sullivan County Schools employee Sandy Watkins of Bluff City, filed a charge of employment discrimination with the THRC. Watkins, a Bluff City Middle School teacher, had sought a principal’s position in the county school system.

Watkins did not identify the person who got the job but said the individual never showed up for the job interview and did not have a proper degree for the position.

“I just asked for fair consideration, fair employment,” she said.

Madu resigned in lieu of termination for gross misconduct in August 2007 following an investigation initiated the previous month by Morgan.

Watkins’ case had been assigned to Madu. After being told by Madu that her case was without merit and had been dismissed, she obtained a copy of the case file through the Freedom Of Information Act. The case file included notes of witness interviews supposedly conducted by Madu. According to the notes, witnesses had not supported Watkins.

But upon contacting the witnesses, Watkins discovered they had not been interviewed by Madu, according to the Comptroller’s Office.

The comptroller’s investigative staff was able to confirm from five of the six witnesses listed in the case file that Madu had never contacted them.

When confronted with these findings, Madu said his documentation was an honest record of calls he had made from his office phone. But when the phone records from his official state telephone were examined, they did not reflect the telephone calls in question. Madu later admitted he had not made the telephone calls in question and had created fictitious notes to make it appear that he had conducted the interviews, according to the comptroller’s report.

Watkins’ employment discrimination case in question, which was originally dual-filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), was referred to the EEOC Memphis Office in September 2007. She said the case is now closed and she is no longer seeking a principal’s position in the school system.

“That (discrimination case) just about did it for me,” she explained.

Watkins’ father, Paul Nelson, was the former superintendent of Sullivan County Schools.

“She had people who were willing to testify that she heard people say in the upper echelon of the school system that she didn’t get her job because she had a handicapped son and as long as she had a handicapped son she couldn’t devote full time to being a principal, and her dad used to be a school superintendent, therefore a Nelson is never going to have a principal’s job in the school system, stuff like that,” Ramsey said of Watkins’ situation. “I told her to file a complaint.”

THRC officials afterward undertook an internal audit review of Madu’s other cases and found more instances of false documentation of interviews he never conducted.

For more about the report, go to: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/SA/IN081601_THRC.pdf.

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